Anecdote – The Night of the big bust-up

Anecdote – The Night of the big bust-up

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The Night of the big bust-up

John and Gwen lived upstairs in the rooms directly next to ours but in the other half of the house. To get to their place you had to do down the four stories on our side and up the four stories on theirs. It was good for the heart but we didn’t do it much. Gwen was a terrible cook. We went round for a meal which consisted of spaghetti with a tin of sweetcorn. I can’t say I relished it.

John was freshly out of prison for grievous bodily harm. He was a heroin addict and had a bit of a temper, particularly when he’d been drinking and was low on smack.

They had a baby. I think Gwen was hoping that the baby might have a stabilising effect on John. I couldn’t see it.

As we were on the top floor in the attic we had dormer windows that opened on to the roof. We both had cats and because we were at the top of the house they’d go out on to the roof. That was their territory. Our cat, Cherokee, was a black female and theirs was a ginger female. But they did not get on. In the middle of the night there would be an almighty caterwauling, yowling, hissing and spitting followed by an almighty fight. At the end of the fight on one occasion there was a great –

YEEEEEEEOOOOOOoooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!

 

Our Cherokee had knocked their cat off the roof. It fell five storeys into the basement and fractured all four legs. The vet’s bill was pretty hefty. Cherokee slid in through the window looking pretty pleased with herself.

John and Gwen were not amused.

On this particular night it was Terry’s birthday and he and Jane had invited John and Gwen out for a celebration at the local boozer. Gwen had asked us to baby-sit and had brought the baby round in a Moses basket.

At eleven o clock the bell rang and it was Gwen and Jane who were distraught and hysterical. We took them up and calmed them down with mugs of coffee to sober them up.

There had been an argument and a fight. John had beaten Terry up.

We just managed to settle them when the doorbell rang. I went down. It was Terry. He was mumbling and a bit incoherent. Partially because of the drink and partly because he’d bitten his tongue which looked as if it was partly severed.

‘My best mate,’ he mumbled. ‘I couldn’t hit him.’

I persuaded him to come upstairs and doused him with coffee. It was apparent that he had stood there and simply allowed John to batter him.  All he kept saying was:

‘He was my best mate. I couldn’t hit him.’

It was also apparent that his tongue was very badly damaged. It was like the end was hanging off.

We managed to calm everyone and then the doorbell rang. An electricity ran round the room. There was only one person it could be.

I went down and answered the door.

John was standing there.

‘Can you ask Gwen to give me the key to the flat,’ he mumbled not looking me in the eye.

I told him I’d go and get it. Just then Gwen came charging down the stairs clutching our bread knife and lunged for John.

‘YOUUUU BAAASTAAAARRRRD!!!’ she shrieked.

I grabbed her hand as John stood there unflinching. I was taking the knife off her when Terry came piling down the stairs.

‘My best mate,’ he said with quite a lisp. It’s hard to speak with your tongue hanging off. He tried to get the knife off me and stab John. Somehow we got Gwen and Terry back upstairs and I shut the door on John.

It all goes quiet.

It is now one o’ clock in the morning.

‘We’d better go round and get some things for the baby,’ Gwen reasoned. We’d sorted that the baby and her would stay with us for the night. Terry and Jane would go to A&E and get Terry patched up.

We went downstairs and up the other side. There we found John crashed out on the landing. He didn’t have a key so he couldn’t get into the flat. He was out for a light.

We stepped over him and opened the flat. We quickly got the nappies and essential items and came out. Terry stepped over John and took a few paces down the stairs. Gwen stepped over him and followed. I was just shutting the door when Gwen turned back and gave John a vicious kick in the ribs.

‘You Baaaassttttaaarddd!!’ She shrieked. ‘’Ruun!’

With that her and Terry belt off down the stairs leaving me having just shut the door and John between me and the stairs.

‘I just want to crash,’ John remonstrates blearily. ‘Just get Gwen to give me the key.’

I’m wishing I hadn’t shut the door.

‘I’ll go and get it,’ I say, edging past him.

I manage to squeeze past and head downstairs. Gwen is at the bottom with Terry. She refuses to give me the key. John is bellowing down.

We head back to our place.

John is evidently working himself up to a fury and decides to break in. We sit and listen as he smashes, kicks and batters the door into matchwood.

Once in the rage is there and we hear the sound of crashing and splintering as he wrecks the place.

Then it goes quiet.

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The Universe in Shorts

The Universe in Shorts is my new book of short stories.

The main story is Maslow’s Stranger which is an allegorical story I first wrote in the 1980s. It also contains a number of Science Fiction short stories, a number of other short stories and some anecdotes.

It has been nice putting these together into a collection. I hope you will enjoy them.

The collection will be out in both digital form and paperback over the next few days.

Thank you for your interest.

Opher

Anecdote – My first kiss.

Anecdote – My first kiss.

 

My first kiss

I’m going to cheat here. To start with I’m going to discount all those parental smackers, and embarrassing smackeroos from salivary grandmas and aunties. They simply do not count.

For the first nine years of my life the thought of kissing girls was absolutely horrifying. Indeed you looked at older boys and shuddered. What on earth were they doing?

Technically my first kiss was during ‘kiss chase’. The girls loved it, and so did we, but I suspect for totally different reasons. To the girls it was about kissing boys. To the boys it was all about escaping from this most terrible fate. If you got caught and kissed that was horrendous. It made it exciting.

So I’ll rule out kiss chase as well. That was a game.

By ten my hormones were kicking in. Suddenly girls were not to be run away from; they were alluring.

But I’m still going to cheat – because I’m going to separate my first kiss into two types.

The first girl I kissed was Liz Staines. She was ten, like me, and in my class. She was sweet on me and I liked her. We would play together. I kissed her on the mouth.

It was a worrying thing. How were you going to manage it? Where did you put your nose?

I remember being concerned. In the event it was sweet and noses weren’t too much of a problem.

But tough I liked Liz, and that kiss was experimental and OK, it was a long way from the real thing. That came shortly after.

Glenys was a Welsh beauty. I was ten and a half and very innocent. She was the older vixen with the wanton ways who led me astray. She was eleven. I think maturity had arrived early for both of us.

I feel for her dark sultry looks and flashing eyes. She was my first love. She made my stomach churn and sent me into a whirly spin. I loved her.

I have no doubt that her hormones were just as active as mine, if not more so.

We spent a lot of time together that summer. I even gave up playing cricket in the street. We built dens and lay down in the long grass in the fields staring into each other’s eyes.

In her garage, my garage and those dens we kissed. It was just like in the films and went on for ten minutes or more. We called them real lover’s kisses. We shared twenty seven of these blood boiling embraces.

They were the hottest.

I count those as my first real kisses.

Anecdotes -My first Singles

Anecdotes -My first Singles

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My first singles

I was eleven when I bought my first singles. They cost me 5P each and I bought five of them.

They were second hand off my older friend Clive Hansell. He had a limited taste in music. The only artists he liked were Buddy Holly and Adam Faith. I didn’t notice at the time that Adam Faith was modelling himself on Buddy Holly. He put that same little warbling affectation into his songs. I also didn’t notice that the quality of the British production was naff. My eleven year old self was not as discerning.

While America, used to authentic country music, was great at producing Rock ‘n’ Roll, Britain was out of its depth. The backing and arrangement was crap. Very few British Rock releases from the late fifties and early sixties came up to scratch on that front. What the producers were aiming for was a more middle of the road market. Raunchy, raw and rockin’ weren’t in their vocabulary.

My friend Clive unloaded all the singles, which he had played to death, on me. That was probably a good deal for both of us.

Over the course of a year I got to inherit the entire output of Adam Faith and Buddy Holly. I still have them all. I’m a collector.

For 25p I bought five Adam Faith singles. I remember playing great numbers like Who Am I, How About That, Someone Else’s Baby, and What Do You Want, on my old Dansette. I loved them.

I progressed to Buddy Holly when Clive became tired with them. For a while they were my only singles.

The first single I bought new was From Me To You by the Beatles. I had been knocked for six by the Please Please Me album and rushed out to buy the album and single.

After that I bought every Beatles, Kinks, Downliners Sect and Stones single on the day of release except for Honky Tonk Women. I was given that in Hyde Park for helping clean up the litter.

I did not tend to buy too many singles. I was always looking for the best value for money (having a limited amount) so I tended to buy albums. But I still have a collection of around five hundred singles that I have accumulated over time.

I miss that excitement of rushing back from the shop and putting that single on the record player in my bedroom with the arm up so that it played on repeat. It would blast out and I’d play it endlessly until I had absorbed every note. Then I’d flip it over and do the same with the B-side. Those singles are seared into my mind.

The experience these days is just not the same, not so visceral. Those singles captured the vitality of my youth.

Every morning I would load my Dansette up with six singles of choice. They would blast out as I got washed, dressed and breakfasted. I knew I had to be out of the house by the time the sixth finished.

Singles were the start to my day.

Anecdote – Road Sweeping Through the Floods on a Wave of Madness

Anecdote – Road Sweeping Through the Floods on a Wave of Madness

Road Sweeping Through the Floods on a Wave of Madness

The rain had been relentless but it had stopped. We had resumed our road sweeping duties. I was paired up with Jim. He was fragile. It was felt that he needed someone to work with because he was unstable. Jim had a mental condition. He was subject to psychotic episodes. For Jim reality was a very thin and highly transparent sheath; it kept breaking down. Jim’s whole life was a series of hospitalized episodes with spells in institutions. It was good that the council employed him. Jim was a pleasant, friendly, harmless soul who needed employment. Without it he would have vegetated.

We had both been on bin duties for a few days. The torrential rain had made sweeping roads extremely difficult. We’d largely confined our duties to emptying litter bins. Now it had turned fine and we were back clearing up the debris from the gutters and drains.

The area we were working in must have been low-lying. We were working our way steadily along when it happened.

There was a series of loud clangs.

I looked back down the road to where the noise had come from. The heavy cast-iron manhole covers for the sewers were exploding up into the air or pillars of water and clanging back to the ground. They were popping up all along the road and heading towards us. Each of the manholes was spouting a solid column of water four feet high.

I stood and watched with amazement. I had never seen anything like it. Fortunately there was no traffic or there could have been some serious accidents. Jim carried on regardless pretending that nothing extraordinary was happening.

The manhole covers near us shot up in the air on pillars of water. It was incredible. Those covers were solid cast-iron and weighed a lot. It took considerable force to lift them. They were popping up into the air like corks. The swollen river Mole had broken its banks. The water had gushed down the sewers and was erupting back out in the lower areas.

Within minutes the water was lapping up to the kerbs. Jim was continuing to sweep even though the water was flowing around his feet.

It was obvious to me that we had to move to higher ground quickly. The whole area was in the process of being flooded. I urged Jim to come out. He refused and was totally focused on sweeping, trying to ignore the water as if it was not happening.

I could see we had a problem. These strange events were outside the norm. Jim had learnt that things that happened outside the normal range of experience were usually figments of his imagination. They augured the start of a breakdown. Jim did not like that. It meant frightening periods of incarceration and treatment. All he wanted was normality.

Unlike me, who found the events of exploding manholes and fountains of water quite exciting, Jim found them terrifying. He was desperately trying to hold his world together. If he could just go on as normal it might all go away and he’d be alright. Exploding sewers were not part of the normal world.

Except it was real.

I coaxed Jim out of the water and got him t trundle his cart in front of mine up the rise away from the rapidly expanding lake of water. He was becoming more and more agitated as he tried to come to terms with what was happening.

At the top of the rise it was dry. A police car parked up and a policeman donned a white mac and took up post directing traffic away from the now deeply flooded road. He was standing at the edge of the water and waving cars away.

Jim took one look at him and thought that he’d been sent to pick him up. He lost it, ran across to the startled policeman and, in a highly agitated manner, started gibbering at him, clutching at him, and telling him that it was alright; he would go with him.

I managed to prise Jim off the bewildered man and lead him away. We went round a friend’s house. I made him a mug of tea and we played some Moody Blues. He liked classical music; that was the nearest we had. It soothed him and gradually he regained control of himself. It had frightened the wits out of him. We talked to him until he managed to grasp that it had been real and the river had merely overflowed and burst out of the sewers. It settled him.

There is a fine line between reality and the worlds inside the head. For some the fabric is exceedingly thin.

Anecdote – the rat and the scream

Anecdote – the rat and the scream

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This one is not in here!

The rat and the scream

I was sitting on the floor leaning back against the armchair watching the TV. It was late at night. Liz was lying on the settee fast asleep.

I thought I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. Under the sideboard there seemed to be a tail sticking out. It was hairy. I thought it looked like a big gerbil’s tail.

I rose up and went across to get a better look. I shifted the sideboard and this huge rat ran out and bounded across the room straight under the settee that Liz was asleep on. It was ginormous – nearly as big as a cat.

It presented me with a dilemma. In order to move the settee and get at the rat I had to move Liz.

I woke her up and gently suggested that she might like to go up to bed. Even in her drowsy state she sensed something was not quite right. The more of an innocent act I put on the more suspicious she became. Finally I told her about rat.

She came fully awake, jumped up on the settee and screamed.

That was not helping matters. I told her to be quiet. Liz refused to get down so I could move the settee.

I went and got the cat who seemed remarkably disinterested.

I retrieved a broom from the kitchen and proceeded to poke and fish around under the settee with the handle. I was a little apprehensive having seen the size of the rodent. I was not quite sure how it had fitted under the settee in the first place.

After a bit of swishing with the broom handle I managed to scare it out and it lolloped out and straight out into the kitchen. Liz shrieked in horror at the size of the beast. I’ve no idea what the neighbours thought? They probably thought there was a murder in progress. The scream was very plaintive. But then it was the biggest rat I had ever seen.

The cat watched with keen interest but showed no inclination to go too much closer. She’d figured that this one was beyond her range.

I followed the rodent out into the kitchen with the broom handle poised to give it a whack. It was too fast for me. The cat followed me and seemed interested in how I was going to deal with this. She sat to watch.

The rat had belted under the washing machine.

I poked and prodded, wondering when if Liz was ever going to come down from that settee. The rat ran out and made a bolt for the cat-flap, straight through and out in one bound.

The cat looked at me and cautiously followed. I could see that she was merely making a token gesture. She followed through the cat-flap with no real conviction. It was purely for show.

It certainly explained how the animal had got into the house. He seemed to know exactly where he was going. It looked to me as if he was a regular.

I bolted the cat-flap which must have given the cat a headache when she tried to get back in and probably provoked some feline confusion. But there was no way I was going to allow that monster back in.

The next day I rang the Council. A gentleman came round with some nice blue rat poison. He seemed very blasé about it all. He thought that it had probably come from the sewers from a few streets over where they were demolishing some houses. I told him that it had obviously been interbred with a mammoth. He laughed. He thought the rat-poison would sort the problem out.

I suggested that he might like to reassure Liz. I had visions of her spending the rest of her life standing on that settee.

Anecdote – A tale to chill the heart.

Anecdote – A tale to chill the heart.

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A tale to chill the heart.

Terry and Jane lived in the basement on the other side of the house. We got to know them quite well and became friends. Jane had four children whom she had left to live with Terry who was twenty years old and ten years her junior.

Terry drove a fort-lift truck in a warehouse and Jane was a nurse.

Terry would get paid on Friday night. On the way home he would stop by the Off-licence and buy his booze. There was an eight pint pipkin of bitter, a bottle of scotch-mac, two bottles of wine, a half bottle of whisky and some other assorted bottles of beer. He would then sit in his armchair with the TV on and drink his way through it.

Around midnight I’d get a call from Jane. It took the form of four rings on the doorbell. Dave would have passed out and she’d need a hand getting him to bed. He was a big guy.

I always put him on his side.

When he was drunk he would sometimes get violent. I think he used to knock Jane about sometimes if she remonstrated with him. On one occasion the TV was out the front with a TV sized hole through the window. These were the days before flat-screens. It was a big, heavy device.

That was strange because Terry was a very affable character who would do anything for you, a bit of a gentle giant with a ready smile and easy-going nature.

I later found out what was behind it all.

When he was fourteen years old he had returned from school with his younger brother. They had called for their mum and gone around the house.  She was normally there for them.

They had found her in the bath. She had taken a bottle of sleeping pills and slit her wrists.

Terry ran away from home and lived rough for years. His brother was institutionalised and had never recovered. Terry had flashbacks. Jane had helped him settle his life. He had a relationship, a job and a place to live. He drank and he smoked a lot of spliff but he coped.

There’s a story behind everything isn’t there?

Anecdote – My first LPs

Anecdote – My first LPs

anecdotes BookCoverImage

My First LPs

The first album that I bought was a second hand copy of Here’s Little Richard. I adored it and played it to death. I remember at a school fete where we were asked to put on a fund raising stall. I took my Dansette in and was a Juke Box for the afternoon. I only took one album in and that was Little Richard, but I played it non-stop all afternoon and made a pound or two. It was an excuse to play the stuff I loved extremely loudly.

I soon followed that first album with Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly. I extended out to Elvis Presley and the first Cliff Richard ‘Live’ album.

The first new album I bought was The Shadow’s Greatest Hits in summer 1963. I loved the Shadows and had all their singles. It seemed the logical choice. I wasn’t to know that no sooner had I bought it that it was destined to become part of the ‘old sound’. It was blown into the past by the Beatles.

After one hearing of the Beatles Please Please Me album I was hooked. I rushed out and bought it. For a full year Merseybeat was it. Then it was British Beat with the Stones, Kinks, Who, Yardbirds, Animals and Pretty Things. I still have all the singles and albums. But I craved for the slightly out of the ordinary so I had The Downliners Sect, Birds, Sorrows and Bo Street Runners. I felt that this was my music. This was as if a knife had sliced it off from everything that had gone before. This was mine.

I loved albums.

I rushed home to my bedroom with my latest purchase, put side one on the Dansette and while it was blasting out, to the distant sound of ‘turn that down!’ futilely coming from my mum and dad in the living room, I avidly digested the front cover photo and all the writing and songs on the back. It was a total experience.

LPs were sacred. They were a complete package of art, information and music aimed only at me. I absorbed them with the rapture they deserved. They were the total immersive experience.

Anecdote – The colourful life of my Nanny

Anecdote – The colourful life of my Nanny

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The colourful life of my Nanny

My Nanny hadn’t always been big and jolly. When she was a young girl she was slim, sexy and jolly. I’ve seen the photos.

She was brought up in the little Lancastrian town of Ingleton in the shadow of Mount Ingleborough.

Sadly her mother died when she was only twelve and her father remarried in order to get someone to look after the eight children. The woman he married was a staunchly religious woman, very stern and severe. Every day was bible and everything had to be just so. My Nanny disliked the regime and rebelled. Her own mother had been warm and friendly. This new ‘mother’ was a religious fanatic and a bit of a harridan.

My Nanny ran away from home and, still in her early teens, managed to get employment at a hospital in the laundry.

A travelling circus came to town and she was taken with the fairground boxer. He would enter the ring to box all-comers. All the local hardnuts would be tempted to take him on to show how tough they were. They’d pay for the privilege with the promise of big rewards if they floored him and he’d play with them before flattening them.

My Nanny, still a young slip of a girl, fell in love and ran off with the boxer.

They toured round the country from the north to the south, playing the fairgrounds, flattening the tough guys and living a life on the road.

My nanny became pregnant and was left in Portsmouth. The boxer left her with his cups, cups that he’d won from his fighting. She pawned them to support herself. It was in Portsmouth that she met up with her future husband. My Grandfather had just been released from the navy and took her and the baby on. Though I think there was always some bad feeling towards my Uncle. He never seemed to fully accept him.

My Nanny had four children but one died of a cot death. She developed gynecological problems and had to have a hysterectomy that nearly killed her. After that she put on weight.

I have fond memories of her sitting on the sofa with me in the early sixties watching Little Richard in a documentary on the TV. Sweat was flying and Richard was rocking. So was my big old Nanny. She loved it! She was full of spirit and mischief.

I think that’s where I get my rebellious wildness from and love of life.

Thanks Nan.

Anecdote – John, books and dope

Anecdote – John, books and dope

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John, books and dope

John lived next door to us. He was quiet and retiring but not unfriendly. He was just exceedingly shy. You hardly saw him because he rarely opened his door. Indeed the only time I ever saw him out of his flat was when I invited him round for a coffee. I wondered how he managed to get his groceries. I certainly did not encounter him outside of the house.

He came in, took his mug of coffee, and started looking at our books. The walls were lined with them. It seemed to spook him out completely.

‘How did you find out about all these?’ he asked, astounded that anyone should have the slightest knowledge of literature.

He never came for coffee again.

John was in his thirties, a well cushioned fellow with long straggly fair hair and rheumy eyes. He’d achieved a First from Cambridge in English Literature.

John had a room with a very large square dark oak table that was pushed against the wall in front of the window. The only other furniture were two armchairs and large shelving units crammed with books. There were piles of books everywhere.

The large table was unusable. It was covered with a huge mound of roaches from joints that were piled up into a great peak resembling Mount Kilimanjaro. They reached to the edges and threatened to spill on to the floor.

John spent his days sitting in his armchair smoking dope and reading.

That was the sum total of his life.